Melvin I. Simon

California Institute of Technology

Primary Section: 26, Genetics
Membership Type: Member (elected 1985)


Dr. Simon received his BS from City College of New York and his PhD from Brandeis University. After completing a postdoc at Princeton University, he joined the University of California, San Diego. In 1982 he moved to the Division of Biology at Caltech, where he served as the Biaggini Professor of Biological Sciences, and is currently Emeritus. In 2007 he returned to UCSD as Adjunct Professor in the Department of Pharmacology and retired in 2013.

Dr. Simon received a Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship, was elected to the NAS, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and received the Waxman award from the NAS in 1991. He served as Chairman of the Division of Biology at Caltech from 1995-2000.

Dr. Simon is Chairman of the Board of Agouron Institute and was a founding member of Agouron Pharmaceuticals. He was a founder and member of the Board of Diversa (aka Verenium) Corporation. He served as a member of the Advisory Board of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Israel Institute of Technology (Technion), the Hutchinson Institute, the Board of Governors of the American Society of Microbiology, and on advisory committees for the NIH, the NSF and the DOE. 

Dr. Simon also serves on the Editorial Board of a number of journals and is co-editor-in-chief of the Methods in Enzymology series.

Research Interests

Dr. Simon worked on the mechanism of site-specific recombination in bacteria, bacterial movement, and chemotaxis. His lab was first to demonstrate that bacterial flagella are driven by a rotary motor. They uncovered the mechanism of phase variation showing that the inversion of a segment of DNA that carries a flagellin promoter controlled the ability of the organism to switch from one flagellar antigen type to another. His laboratory helped characterize the components involved in sensory transduction in bacteria. They were first to show that the process involved protein-histidine phosphorylation and helped define the nature of two-component systems in bacteria. They determined the three-dimensional atomic structure of the protein-histidine-kinase that plays a central role in this process.

Dr. Simon's laboratory played a major role in the characterization of the genes that encode G protein signaling families in animal cells. His group generated a variety of mutant mice deficient in components of the signaling cascade. Their work, together with Baylor’s laboratory at Stanford, helped define the in vivo function of G-protein mediated phototransduction cascades and molecular mechanisms involved in retinal degeneration. Recently Dr. Simon worked on G-protein receptors involved in nociception. His group played an important role in the Human Genome Project. They invented the Bacterial Artificial Chromosome (BAC) vector and built many of the initial libraries that provided material for the Human Genome Project. They developed maps of human chromosomes 16 and 22 used for determining the complete sequence of chromosome 22, and explored the role of microorganisms and their function in environmental systems. This interest was one of the factors leading to the founding of Diversa Corporation in 1994.

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